Thursday, December 17, 2009

Perfect: The Often-Impossible Goal

book cover - The Subversive Copy Editor

When I'm not working with clients to organize their homes or offices, I'm editing CoastViews Magazine - organizing words, rather than papers or stuff. So that's why I just finished reading a wonderful book called The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller. (Here it is on IndieBound.) This is one of my favorite quotes:
The manuscript does not have to be perfect. ...

The manuscript does not have to be perfect because perfect isn't possible. There's no Platonic idea for that document, one "correct" way for it to turn out, one perfect version hidden in the block of marble that it's your job to discover by endless chipping away. It simply has to be the best you can make it in the time you're given, free of obvious gaffes, rid of every error you can spot, rendered consistent in every way that the reader needs in order to understand and appreciate, and as close to your chosen style as is practical.
While Saller is writing about editing, similar cautions apply to much of what we do - at work and at home. It's easy to set standards that are higher than what is really needed to serve our customers, our friends, our family. In many cases, like the editor, we'd be better off to simply do the best we can within a reasonable amount of time.

Related Post:
Six Perspectives on Perfectionism